This week for we sat down with our lovely friends from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, USA to see what their ASA (African Student Association) is all about. Join us while we talk ethics, aspirations and food fests…
FAB: What is the driving force behind your organization?
Truman – There are two overarching factors that have been the driving force behind our organization and both of them have to do with the geographical location of Truman State University. Kirksville is a town of 17,000 located in rural northeast Missouri. Thus, when African students arrive on campus, they are a world away from home or even the big city. As a result, the African Students Association (ASA) was started as a support group for African students where we can meet and mingle with other African students and feel “at home” as well as encourage positive interactions among African students but also between African students and the larger Truman student body. Secondly, since there are no major cities less than a 60-mile radius from Kirksville, information on Africa is the Kirksville community is rather limited and often misguided. Therefore, ASA not only brings awareness of African issues to the campus and surrounding community but also acts as a vital resource of information on Africa for the local community and helps dispels misconceptions about life in the continent.
FAB: Why do you think it is important for your organization to be African ambassadors on your campus?
Truman – It is important for the ASA to be African ambassadors on campus because there are very few people on our campus who know even basic facts about the continent. Most students arrive on campus not having ever taken a course in African history or culture in high school. Some still think of Africa as a country! Furthermore, since the bulk of the student population come from Midwestern states (Missouri, Iowa and Illinois) very few would have been exposed to African populations in their high schools or neighborhoods. As a result, they come with a lot of misconceptions about the continent that may have picked up from the media or pop culture—e.g. movies. By interacting with students either in class, in our dormitories as roommates or through the shows we organize, ASA members play a vital role as African ambassadors on this campus by formally or informally educating the community about African culture and politics, in particular.
FAB: What kind of events do you organize? What is the biggest event of the year and why?
Truman – We organize different events throughout the year that are geared towards educating as well as entertaining the campus community by showcasing various aspects of African culture (e.g. food, fashion, dance, songs, theater) and politics. Some of these annual events include:
Sights and Sounds of Africa: This is the biggest event we put up each year. It is usually in the Spring semester. It is a variety show in which we use drama/comedy to educate the audience about political/democratic and governance issues on the continent, a fashion show, African poetry, songs, dance and food to showcase the diversity of cultures on the continent, to help drive home the point that Africa is not a country but a continent with sometimes vastly different cultures. We usually record an attendance of over 200 people with free admission and free buffet style African food.
Food Fest: A larger event where African students cook and sell different dishes from their respective countries for the Truman campus. It is usually held once during the Fall semester and is usually a great fund-raiser event.
Hungry Fridays: A smaller food-fundraiser event that takes place every week for a month where we provide African dishes for the Truman campus. This event attracts a lot of students because they can always get some food in between classes.
International Idol: A much larger event on campus hosted by the International Club in the Fall. Much like American Idol, this event includes participants from all the international organization on campus. ASA participates by showcasing African talents mostly through comedy-theater and dance.
International Dinner: Along with other international organization on campus, we collaborate with the International Club to put up a huge annual dinner of showcasing various dishes from countries around the world that are represented on our campus.
Salvation Army Fundraiser: We collect old clothes, shoes, and other household items from the Truman community and donate them to the Salvation Army as one of our philanthropic and service events.
FAB: Do you think your organization is FAB? What is unique about your organization?
Truman – Our organization is definitely fabulous. One of the unique facts about the African Students Association is that even though the organization started out as primarily a support group for African students (hence its name) it has since grown to include non-African students who are interested in African affairs. We have even had non-African students holding positions in the Executive and the organization has benefitted tremendously from the diversity of its membership.
FAB: What does your ACS/ASA hope to achieve?
Truman – To be considered successful, we hope to achieve the following – Dispel misconceptions and improve general knowledge about the African continent on our campus and around the Kirksville community. Act as a support group for African students and ensure that the organization continues to be relevant in the lives of its members, thereby creating lifetime relationships that will last well beyond the walls of Truman State University.
FAB: What are some of the positive and negative (if any) outcomes/perceptions of being actively involved in your ACS?
Truman – In terms of the positive outcomes, members get to interact with each other and learn about other cultures from students from different countries who they may not have had an opportunity to meet otherwise. Furthermore, members in similar academic majors help each other out with course work and other curriculum or major-related problems. Many of our ASA alumni have continued those relationships post-graduation and have continued to act as a resource for each other either professionally or socially (especially those who end up working in the same city (e.g. St. Louis, Kansas City, and Washington, DC). Even after graduating, some of our alumni have kept in touch the ASA and rendered advice as “big brothers” or “big sisters” when needed or attended our events as their schedule permits to show their continued support. Also, we find it most gratifying when we get overwhelmingly positive feedback after our events, especially Sights and Sounds of Africa, not just about how much they enjoyed the show but most importantly about how much they learned that they did not know about Africa.
FAB: What would you say to those who believe ACS is just about partying?
Truman – To those who think that ASA is just about partying, we would direct them to our graduation record. Since ASA was started in 2000, over 80% of its members have graduated from Truman. Despite the fact that we do make time for socializing, we have never lost sight of our number one goal—which is to leave Truman State University with our degrees.
FAB: Do you think being a part of your ACS will contribute to your career aspirations? Are there any examples of former members/officers that prove this?
Truman – Yes, being a part of ASA definitely contributes to one’s career aspirations, especially when we see what some of our alumni have achieved since leaving Truman. We have some very successful alumni around the country now including a neurosurgeon who recently graduated from Case Western Medical Center in Cleveland, a computer engineer at Monsanto in St. Louis, several Accountants in major companies around the country, and another medical student currently at Duke Medical School! Three out of our last four ASA presidents are either in medical school or are preparing to enter medical school.
FAB: Do you feel the African/black population in your University is well represented? How has this affected the organization?
Truman – Actually, the African/black population at Truman State University is very small—only about 5%–so we are not a well represented group on this campus. This is why ASA has been working to cultivate relationships with other black organizations on campus (e.g. Association of Black Collegians and Coalition of African American Women) so that we can work together and help increase our overall impact on campus. One promising development however is that for the first time in the history of the university, an African American student was elected president of the student body of this predominantly white campus in 2009-10. We hope the university will continue to increase its recruitment of African/black students to eventually give us a critical mass that would make us better represented at this university.